While most people tend to overlook the Pittsburgh Steelers in the era prior to the 1970s dynasty, this Steelers History Series will look back on some of the history of the franchise, ripe with some nuggets you may not know and hope you will enjoy.
Change did not come easy for the Steelers
The NFL was changing rapidly, and the Steelers were not exactly bringing cutting edge football theory to the table. In fact, they literally started going backwards. Art Rooney hired John Michelosen, the protégé of Jock Sutherland. Alas, he just was no Sutherland and while the rest of the league began to adopt the more versatile T-Formation, the Steelers would not change from the Single-Wing formation until his resignation. The next five years featured two head coaching hires in Joe Bach and Walt Kiesling that literally were the 2nd and 3rd stints for each, with their original runs being in the 1930s. The companion piece – Stories of the Steelers early coaches – shares some of the more interesting anecdotes about the early Steelers struggles on the sidelines.
Both men were stubborn and mired to the past with a game that had passed them by. To compound problems, some of the worst personnel decisions in Steelers history came during these tenures.
Same Old Steelers
The birth of the phrase “Same Old Steelers” came about as a result of the events of the Pennsylvania Polka. Bert Bell, who was to be head coach as part of that arrangement, entered the season with extremely high hopes while Rooney was far more reserved about it. After an 0-4 start, Bell’s enthusiasm became replaced with panic and said to Rooney, “We gotta do something drastic!” Rooney replied with “I know Bert, did you ever think of changing coaches?” For all that went down and rosters literally changing, the 1-9-1 season – it really was the “Same Old Steelers.”
“Hi-diddle-diddle, it’s Rogel up the middle.”
Nothing exemplifies the “Same Old Steelers” more than Walt Kiesling’s stubborn mindset and belief the game was a test of strength and will. As the rest of the league was adapting with innovative play from the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, Kiesling was as predictable as the Pittsburgh streetcar schedule.
Every single game began with the exact same play. The entire league knew it. Running Back Fran Rogel was coming up the middle. It was Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press who came up with the catchy jingle “Hi-diddle-diddle, it’s Rogel up the middle” and he would sing it in the press box before every game.
As opposed to the early years of the Steelers, Rooney had stopped interfering with the coaches’ play calling, but even he grew frustrated. He approached Kiesling and said, “Look Kies, I want you to try a pass on the first play of the game.” Kiesling resisted by saying “No, you don’t throw the ball on first down.” The battle of wills played out and Rooney stood firm and insisted until Kiesling relented.
He was certain about the opening play being a pass that he walked into the press box and told everyone to expect a pass. Drum said he’d believe it when he saw it. Rooney chomped on his cigar and smiled as he replied, “You just watch, I guarantee it.”
On that first play, Rooney initially looked to be right. QB Jim Finks faked the handoff to Rogel and hit a streaking Goose McClaren for an 80-yard TD. But the play was called back as the refs called a penalty. Kiesling allegedly told one of his players to intentionally jump offsides – he didn’t want to be proven wrong. Whether that is true or not is something we will probably never will know for certain. What is certain is on the next play, Rogel ploughed up the middle for a one-yard gain.
And Drum once again recited, “Hi-diddle-diddle, it’s Rogel up the middle.”
- How The Pittsburgh Steelers Came to Be – Art Rooney
- How a day at Saratoga saved the Pittsburgh Steelers
- When Art Rooney played a prank on George Halas
- Byron “Whizzer” White and “Bullet” Bill Dudley: The Steelers first Franchise Players
- The Pennsylvania Polka – When Art Rooney sold the Steelers
- When Art Rooney was offered the chance to buy the New York Yankees
- What might have been – Jock Sutherland
- Same Old Steelers – “Rogel up the Middle”
- NEXT: Why the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas
- How Buddy Parker vs. Dan Rooney set up the Steelers Dynasty
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